Pubdate: Fri, 11 Feb 2000
Source: In These Times Magazine (US)
Copyright: In These Times 2000
Author: Ana Carrigan


The new century was just 11 days old when President Clinton announced an 
emergency two-year aid package for the U.S. "war on drugs" in Colombia. The 
price tag? $1.6 billion.

Colombia's army and police are already the world's third-largest recipient 
of U.S. assistance after Israel and Egypt. No Latin country has ever 
received anything comparable to this new package.

But this is an election year in Washington. What's a billion and a half as 
a down payment for a war in a country that nobody cares about if it 
silences the drug czar and robs the Republicans of an election-year stick 
to beat on the president and his party?

According to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who traveled to 
Colombia to sell Washington's plan to the skeptical Colombian public, the 
new U.S. aid will "provide substantial support for President Andres 
Pastrana's plan to achieve peace, promote prosperity, protect human rights 
and fight crime." Basking in the glow of her dinner the previous evening 
with Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the secretary vowed "to seek 
100 years of peace, democracy and rising prosperity for both our nations."

But even Clinton and Albright may experience difficulty dressing up $1 
billion for the Colombian army which opposes the peace negotiations and 
calling it money for democracy and human rights.

Most of the money is for the Colombian army to train and equip two new 
"counter-narcotics" battalions. The new troops, trained by American Special 
Forces and supplied with 63 new helicopter gun ships, will join a third 
U.S.-trained and -equipped "counter-narcotics" battalion already in action.

Together, these battalions constitute the equivalent of a new, 
American-created brigade. They are to be deployed to "push" the FARC out of 
the southern jungles where the bulk of Colombia's cocaine is grown by 
peasants displaced by the war. The new battalions will be implementing the 
"McCaffrey Doctrine" alternately defined as "eradicating drugs at the 
Source" or, more recently, as "breaking the narco-guerrilla drug links."

The McCaffrey strategy of eradication by fumigation doesn't work. The most 
recent studies by the CIA estimate that even when plants receive a direct 
hit, only 25 percent of them die. Since 1994, the United States has spent 
billions to spray millions of gallons of poisonous chemicals, destroying 
the fragile ecosystem of jungle rain forests.

But coca production has surged. Fumigation pushes the growers somewhere 
else. It also does a fine job recruiting for the guerrillas.

Meanwhile, the human rights implications of this plan are truly sinister. 
By opting to create a second, parallel army, the administration has found a 
cynical mechanism to circumvent the law prohibiting American aid to foreign 
armies tainted by human rights violations. It also has segued from 
"counter-narcotics" into counterinsurgency without debate, all the while 
denying any change in the official policy.

Yet an army, by definition, is a single, unified institution. The creation 
of two armies -- one "good" army, American trained and supplied, and a 
second "bad" army, which does not qualify -- for American goodies offers a 
dangerous model for increased lawlessness and lack of accountability. 
Furthermore, the Clinton plan lacks any strategy for insulating the new 
battalions from either corrupt superiors higher up the army chain of 
command (like the general who is currently in charge of the entire southern 
region of operations) or from the criminal activities of military 
intelligence (whom government investigators have linked to a string of 
high-profile assassinations).

The consequences for Colombia, if the proposed aid package passes Congress, 
will be tragic. it will mean an end to the struggling peace process; the 
final relegation to complete irrelevance of a well-intentioned but weak 
civilian government; and the increasing Salvadorization of the Colombian 
civil war. Already two thirds of the victims of the counterinsurgency are 
civilian, and 1.7 million peasants have been violently uprooted from their 
homes and their land. This new U.S. policy will result in a humanitarian 
tragedy of devastating dimensions.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart